Tag Archive | "Neal Hartman"

Restored Bell Tolls Once Again

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The bell in the tower of Christ Church was restored in honor of late parishioner Neal Hartman.

The bell in the tower of Christ Church was restored in honor of late parishioner Neal Hartman.



by David McCabe


When, in 1908, Mrs. Russell Sage purchased one 2,000-pound bell from the Meneely Bell Company for the Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor Village it came with a guarantee that it would work for ten years. The bell outlasted its warranty by 92 years, until cracks in its wooden support mechanism rendered it inoperable in the fall of 2010.

Now, the bell is once again sounding over Sag Harbor thanks to a fundraising effort led by parishioner David Bray in memory of his partner Neal Hartman, who died in October, 2010

The new bell will be officially dedicated to Hartman during a short ceremony this Sunday — marking the beginning of another chapter in the history of an object that has been in use for more than 100 years.

When he was still alive, Hartman would ring the bell at the end of services every Sunday. It was shortly after he passed away that the church had to stop using the bell because of the damage to the surrounding wood. A company brought in by the parish also recommended that the bell be repainted and that crucial bolts be replaced, since they had been in use for more than a century.

Bray was approached by Father Shawn Williams, who was the Priest-in-Charge of the parish at the time, suggesting that repairing the bell would serve as a fitting memorial to Neal. A first round of funds were raised from Hartman’s friends and associates.

Then, using the parish’s mailing list, Bray and church leaders were able to collect the remainder of the $8,000 restoration fee for the bell. The contributions were as large as $1,000 from one donor, but Bray said that many of the donations were much smaller.

“There [weren’t] billionaires giving money,” Bray said, “it was all members of the community.”

The restoration began in the summer of 2011, but the extreme heat occasionally stymied workers. In addition to replacing the cracked wood wheel that turns the bell, they sanded the bell and painted it to prevent future damage that could result from Sag Harbor’s proximity to salt water.

They also had to realign the bell on its stands, since it had shifted and was rubbing against the stands.

The bell was in working condition by the end of 2011 and has been rung since around Easter, but Bray said they waited to dedicate it until the spring because they wanted more of Hartman’s friends to be able to attend.

At the ceremony on Sunday, the bell will be blessed and a soloist will perform Bray and Hartman’s song, “Till There Was You,” from The Music Man. It begins: “There are bells all around, but I never heard them ringing, I never heard them at all, till there was you.”

A reception will follow the dedication. Those in attendance will be able to view both a new plaque noting the dedication and one of the original order slips for the bell, which was found in the Church’s archives by Priest-in-Charge Karen Campbell.

While repairing the bell creates a public memorial for his late partner, Bray says it also helps to preserve an important part of Sag Harbor history.

“It’s an artifact and an historic object that you cannot see but you can here,” Bray said. “There are monuments and things all around, the historic homes, [that you can see] but this is an artifact. Nobody ever sees it, but now they’ll be able to hear it.”

Ringing Tribute

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Christ Church Bell web

By Courtney M. Holbrook


For David Bray and Neal Hartman, the song “Till There Was You” stood for their 40-year relationship. The refrain “there were bells, but I never heard them ringing … till there was you,” said everything and more. They heard those bells.

When Bray and Hartman attended Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor, Hartman took joy in ringing the bell rope in the narthex after services.

“Neal loved the bells,” Bray said. “And after each service, when Father Shawn [Williams] would close the service, he would go and ring the bells … He was like the bell ringer of the church.”

But the bell itself is damaged, its wooden wheel detached from its base due to age and use. For a while, the church has used a canticle to conclude the service.

Hartman passed away on October 24, 2010. In honor of his partner, and the church where he spent so much of his time, Bray has arranged “the most appropriate memorial.”

Bray hopes to restore the bells of Christ Episcopal Church, and let them ring on May 20, 2012.

“The idea fell into place,” Bray said. “It was the best thing, to begin this restoration and do it in [Hartman’s] name.”

“I knew it would be difficult to think of something appropriate for someone like [Hartman], who was so connected and so involved in this parish,” Williams said. “Bringing the bell back to something that would work, it was actually a perfect memorial.”

The church was built in 1847, and the bell was first noted in the Sag Harbor Express of Thursday, March 12, 1908. Mrs. Russell Sage had the bell shipped and erected by the Meneely Bell Company of Troy, N.Y. The Meneely Bell Company also financed bells for the funeral of John F. Kennedy, and the replacement of the Liberty Bell.

The bell was made of “purest bronze composition, is sweet in tone and measures 46 inches at its mouth, its weight being greater than that of any bell now in Sag Harbor,” according to the Express.

Bray looks at the renovation project as both a memorial for Hartman, and an addition to the historic authenticity of Sag Harbor. Bray notes the bell’s restoration is an example of “historic preservation, where we offer something which can be heard, but is not visible.”

According to Bray, the bell’s restoration is not only a benefit for the congregation of the church, but a “precious Sag Harbor historical artifact that serves the community as a whole.”

Originally, Bray had intended for the bells to ring once more this October, but the time and funds needed for restoration showed the process would take longer than first expected. Bray noted the month of May, when winter has passed and summer residents have begun to return, would be perfect.

The damaged bell is one of only two in Sag Harbor. To let this record of life in Sag Harbor go silent would render “an invisible artifact doomed to sitting in silence,” according to Bray.

“This was so important to Neal,” Bray said. “But it’s not a selfish idea on my part. We want the good citizens of Sag Harbor to have a this beautiful piece of history.”

Father Williams made the announcement to the congregation of the church two weeks ago. The response was positive; congregants seemed to understand the importance of the bell’s restoration, according to Williams.

“People like bells, they give life to a lot of things,” Rev. Williams said. “And David and I are on the same wavelength, I think; we know that what would be good for the church also works so well with the [Sag Harbor] Village’s plan to maintain historicity.”

So, as the months continue, the broken wheel of wood will be replaced with stainless steel, hopefully allowing it to ring for “another 100 years,” Williams said. A plaque with Hartman’s name will also be set up in the church.

When the day comes when Bray will be able to ring the bell once again, he’ll do so not just in memory of Sag Harbor’s rich history, but also in honor of Hartman, and his dedication to the congregation and the people of Sag Harbor. And he will do it in memory of their song, and the bells they heard and rang together.

“The bells have always been in our lives,” Bray said. “Bells were our song, they were what Neal loved … they brought us such joy together.”

Donations to the Bell Restoration Project at Christ Episcopal Church can be made to P.O. Box 570, Sag Harbor, NY, 11963.